To Let the Sun Set – by Felicity Poole

Summary:  Can the family survive the repercussions of an event from long ago and words spoken anger only three days before?
Rating:  PG    Word Count:  19,475

The Brandsters have included this author in our project: Preserving Their Legacy. To preserve the legacy of the author, we have decided to give their work a home in the Bonanza Brand Fanfiction Library.  The author will always be the owner of this work of fanfiction, and should they wish us to remove their story, we will.

To Let the Sun Set

The muddy earth trembled underneath hooves that violently connected to the unsolid ground. Driverless and out of control, a buckboard was recklessly being pulled along by two panicked beasts, both running blindingly in the dark as the heavens wept floods, and angry bolts of fire tore through the starless sky. Cracks of thunder rumbled and echoed in the surrounding hills till landing in the ears of an awakening form.

Pain was etched across the young man’s features as the intense pounding of his head robbed him of his sanity. His piercing hazel eyes pried themselves open, looking out disoriented into the night’s storm. The painful jarring and rocking sent memories rushing back causing the young man to become quickly alert and aware of his situation. His shaky hand reached up gripping tightly to the drivers bench and proceeded to pull himself up, rolling over the seat, landing in the front of the rickety wagon. His nervous hands searching, helplessly across the wagon bed for the missing reins, but none were to be found.

Lightening once again illuminated the skies revealing for only a split second the approaching danger coming unseen by the young Cartwright in tow. Little Joe was jarred forward when the unstable wheels struck a new stretch of rocky terrain, sending the buckboard into a fit of violent vibrations and tremors. He was just beginning to regain his stability, or at least what little of it he may have had, when the front axle broke, sending a wheel spiraling off, leaving the wagon to drop to the side and begin plowing into the ground.

Joe struggled against the gravity pulling at him, his whole body trying to avoid the now inevitable. The surrounding boulders quickly found they’re mark sending the buckboard remains and her passenger catapulting forwards. Joe landed with a bone cracking thud, his body tumbling to a violent stop at the trunk of a nearby tree. A crushing force struck him, pinning his tattered body to the ground. A cry tore from his lips, his anguishing scream falling upon deaf ears. The last thoughts on his mind before darkness consumed him were those of his family.

Rain continued to pelt his motionless form, mixing his blood with the forming rivers.


The old grandfather clock ticked silently till the hands finally struck eleven o’clock.

sending a chime echoing through the house.

“Where is he?!” a voice boomed.

“Now Pa, I’m sure he jest lost track of time. You know Little Joe,” Hoss assured him as he watched his father from the settee.

“Yes. I know your brother and I know what’s going to happen to him when he decides to show himself through that door!” Ben raged.

“He could have taken shelter from the storm, maybe even decided to stay the night at the hotel in Virginia City,” offered Hoss.

“Hoss don’t you start making excuses for him. I ordered that boy home by supper, which was long before this storm hit!”

Adam looked up from his latest read and stared at the pacing form of his father. He let out a sigh and closed the book silently making a mental note on which page he had left off. “He’s fine Pa.”

Ben’s chestnut eyes flared as he caught eye contact with his oldest’s calm sienna depths. “He won’t be Adam, he won’t be!”

Hoss flinched at his father’s words, it was amazing how his little brother could rile his father up so. He seemed to always find trouble without even trying. Ben was voicing an anger that could scare any man right out of his boots, but his sons who knew him best, knew the expression painted on his features was that of obvious worry and fear.

Adam stood and briefly stretched his limbs before placing a hand on the older man’s shoulder. “Come on to bed Pa. We’ll question him in the morning.”

“No!” Ben exclaimed angrily then his face softened slowly, and he sighed “I’m sorry son.”

“That’s OK Pa, I know your just worried about him.”

Ben smiled a forlorn smile then looked back at the door. “You two go on to bed, I want to stay up a bit longer.”

“Ya sur Pa?”

“Yes, Hoss, I’m sure.”

Hoss stood and made his way to the stairs, “Night Pa, Adam.”

“Goodnight Hoss.” “Goodnight son,” came the reply as the big man disappeared around the corner of the stairs toward his room.

Ben let out a groan of frustration and dropped into his favorite red leather chair. “Oh Adam what am I going to do with that brother of yours?”

Adam smiled lovingly looking over into the crackling fire in the fireplace. “I don’t know Pa,” he sighed, “I don’t know.” Adam watched his father rub his temples, then entwine his fingers bracing his chin slightly upon them. Adam squeezed his Pa’s shoulder and smiled reassuringly. “It’ll be OK Pa you’ll see.”

“I know son, I know. I just can’t help it.”

“It’s alright I understand how you feel. Good night, Pa.”

Ben looked up at his sons retreating form an gave a half smile, “Good night son.”

Then all was left silent except the light pitter patter of rain on the houses wood frame and the rhythmic ticking of the pendulum a constant reminder of the lateness of the youngest Cartwright.


A low guttural groan escaped past Little Joes chilled lips as consciences summoned him. His body was screaming in agony, and it was only intensified by the slow, labored rise and fall of his chest. His weak green eyes opened slightly all memories erased, replaced only by pain and confusion of the present situation. ‘What happened, where…where am I?’ The young man could remember the promise he had made to his father. After weeks of being late he promised he would be home, knowing for once he did not want to face the wrath of his patriarch again. Joe’s Hazel iris’s starred up at the new morning sun which brought no warmth to his iced skin. A chill ran down his spine sending a tremor throughout his entire body.

“I’m late…need to get home, Pa…Pa will…Pa will be mad…dissapointed in me.” Tears leaked out of the corners of his eyes as he set his thoughts into action and attempted to move. The young Cartwright’s brows furrowed as a cry was torn from his throat. He clenched his jaw tightly shut as the wave of pain ran it’s coarse through his limbs. In natural reflex his back tried to arch, but stayed pinned to the muddy ground by the debris atop him. “Pa…” came his choked plea. Little Joe closed his eyes tight and turned his head to the side pressing it into the ground. A soft whinny sounded lightly in his ears as a heated mist blew across his neck. He let his eyes open slightly his iris’s meeting two coffee-colored ones, attached to them was a black and white snout.

“Cooch,” he whispered hoarsely moving one of his free hands up to touch the animals mussel. “I…I thought you’d r…ran off with the team. Shoulda known you couldn’t leave me boy.” He let a slight smile touch his lips before it disappeared in a mask of pain.

Reaching over he grasped the debris around him and slowly but surely lifted the smaller pieces off him and tried to push them to the side ignoring the pain that quickly made itself known as his body protested to his movements. His hands gathered the reins that dangled from the horses bridle and let his shaky fingers tie them securely around the largest part of the wagon. “Cooch your gonna have ta help me boy,” he whispered stroking the horses muzzle

“Pull boy pull!” Joe ordered pushing the horse away. As if understanding Cochise began backing away slowly till the leather straps were tight, then he began to pull and tug causing the debris to shift sending a new wave of agony through the young Cartwright as settled injuries were disturbed.

Beads of sweat gathered on his brow, his lip tucked tightly between his teeth as he bit back a cry. The wagon slowly lifted inch by inch till Joe was free enough to roll over. Little Joe laid not moving as he breathed in all the nerves he could muster, slowly he pulled himself across the ground with his arm’s tears welled up in his eyes as his misery increased to an almost unbearable high. As soon as he cleared the wreckage Cochise let the straps slacken dropping the wagon to the ground a soft whinny and snort announced his relief of the heavy burden. The young Cartwright pulled himself beside the pinto and reached up to grasp the stirrup attempting to pull himself up. A cry penetrated his lips causing the horse to jump and nervously paw at the ground. Joe rested a few minutes before trying again. Calling on everything he had left he draped himself over the saddle sliding is right leg over the other side not bothering to place either boot into the leather stirrups. His hand traced the reins and untied them from the wreckage with a weak tug he pushed Cochise towards home. His body relaxed and he lay forwards across the pinto’s neck grasping one hand to the coarse black and white mane. Dizziness swam through his mind blurring his hazy vision. Soon heaviness attacked his eyelids slowly letting them fall. “Can’t…can’t go to sleep need to stay awake.”

His struggling was in vain for unconsciousness soon won and he slipped into an unpeaceful darkness.


The sun was showing itself shyly after the down pour through the night. Adam was trotting carefully down stairs when he caught sight of His father still seated in his red leather chair, his head leaned to the side, eyes closed in sleep. Adam slowly crept down the remaining stairs and crossed the great room floor till he was standing in front of his father studying the older man’s features. People often said a person appeared younger while in slumber, but his father looked as an acceptation his features holding a worried and unpeaceful expression.

(Joe you’ve really done it this time, I wish you could see first-hand what you do to Pa. I Hope you had a good time doing whatever it is you were doing, cause when you get home, I promise you…)

Adam ran a hand through his raven locks a scowl present across his handsome features. With an exasperated sigh he turned to the kitchen to start some coffee not just for himself but for his father whom he knew was going to need it this morning. He was no sooner opening the jar when he heard the movement behind him. With a sideways glance he caught sight of his newly awaken patriarch.

“Morning Pa.”

Ben looked up with tired eyes and smiled slightly at the sight of his eldest. “Morning Son.”

“You didn’t sleep in that old chair all night did you?”

“Yes I suppose I did, must of fallen asleep by accident. I sure have the creeks to prove it.”

Adam smiled slightly as he placed the filled pot on the stove.

“What am I going to do Adam? It’s as if the boy doesn’t care anymore, my words don’t seem to go through,” Ben exasperated.

“He’s young Pa, barely twenty-two, he just hasn’t grown up is all,” Adam replied, though at the moment defending his brother is not quite what he wanted to do.

“Yes, but I don’t recall you or Hoss ever being so difficult. I never had to worry with the both of you the way I have to fret with Joseph.”

“I can remember a few instants from my younger years when I think you would take back the comment you just made.”

Ben chuckled lightly at a few fleeting memories, “Yes maybe so.”

Adam watched as his father’s expression changed back into a serious scowl.

“But this is all beside the point, he deliberately disobeyed me again. I demand three things from my boys: Respect, Obedience, and Honesty. Quite frankly I’ve struggled with all three with that boy!”

Adam sighed he couldn’t argue with his father’s point there. His brother sure new how to get into trouble it was like his middle name, he never meant for so much to go wrong so often but he never could seem to help it, though that should never be an excuse. Just a few nights ago Joe was late once again showing up with a doosy of a black eye which despite his efforts was impossible to hide. His father had literally blown his stack not to mention himself, he cringed at the memory. That had been a fight to remember he had told Joe a few things, some which he had regretted uttering later.

Adams thoughts were shattered by the sound of familiar hoof beats slowly clomping into the yard. Adam started towards the great room to go outside and confront his younger brother yet again, but Ben was already ahead of him at the front door gripping the handle preparing himself to charge outside. His features had changed from worry to anger in only a matter of moments. He exited the great room his feet pounding authoritatively towards the horse and rider.

“Jo-seph!” Ben thundered loudly. Ben’s chocolate eyes met the slow-moving Pinto and his motionless passenger, at that moment one would have thought the very life’s color had drained from the older man’s complexion, and the anger visibly became forgotten.

“Dear God in Heaven, Joseph!” came the distressed man’s cry as his feet raced forward towards the source of his anguish.

Adam backed a few steps and turned back towards the door. “Hoss! Hoss get down here now!” He called before following after his father.

Ben steadied the fidgeting animal enough to pull the light burden off his back and lay it gently onto the ground. The soft moan of protest from being moved was the only thing convincing the man of his son still being alive, for his appearance was that of a dead man.

Hoss stumbled outside half-dressed, his focus on pulling his left boot on. “Dadburnit Adam, what in tarnation is all this ruckus about?” when he received no answer, he lifted his crystal blue eyes to meet the sight before him. “Pa! Pa what happened? Little Joe?” he shouted quickly arriving by the tattered forms side.

“He’s alive Hoss, help me get him inside and upstairs.”

Hoss acted without question sliding his large hands underneath the small frame and gently lifted him into his strong arms. “Everything’s gonna be alright little brother ol’ Hoss gots ya now,” he whispered quietly

“Pa I’m going to get Doc Martin. I’ll ride as fast as I can,” Adam announced leaving their sides heading towards the barn not waiting for an answer. Ben’s eyes followed his eldest sons retreating form for a moment praying for Gods speed before his attentions were back to Hoss and the injured child he now carried.


Ben traced his fingers across the buttons of the torn and bloodied remains of his son’s shirt. The smell of the draining crimson was sickening causing his own stomach to churn. All the anger from earlier had been erased, thoughts of what happened set aside, moments ago he was ready to give his youngest the talk of a lifetime now his worries of losing his baby threatened to eat away at his sanity. Ben’s eyes grew wide as the last of the torn shirt was tossed aside revealing the exposed chest and abdomen of his son. The skin was grotesquely discolored each mark telling its own tale of pain. Quickly gathering some of the towels at his side he rolled them and pressed one hand firmly yet gently on the angry laceration that stretched boldly across the young Cartwright’s abdomen as the other hand assisted Hoss in wiping the mud and splinters of debris from his son’s body.

“Pa, I sur don’t like the sound of his breathin’ none,” Hoss spoke up catching his distracted father of guard startling him, it took only a moment for Ben to digest what his son had said. His ears tuned in to the slow to come wheezing/Gurgling noises emitting from the motionless body. Fear struck even harder as the realization of what was happening entered his mind. His son’s lungs were filling with fluid or blood a sign that a broken rib had punctured the organ.

A stream of Cantonese filled the air as a short China-man came storming into the room fresh towels, boiled water, and herbal jars by the dozen piled in his small arms. “Mr. Cartlight, you move out of Hop Sing’s way. You go eat breakfast on table chop chop, Hop Sing help numba thwee son now,” Hop Sing ordered as he adjusted his belongings on the bedside table.

“Hop Sing you know me better than that, I can’t leave my son,” came the reply in a voice that was spoken in finality. The cook’s eyes met the dark ones of his friend and employer and he almost smiled though it never surfaced on his features. “Just no get in Hop Sings way.” The small man added firmly as he went quickly to work mixing his herbs ignoring the two sets of worried eyes that where not on him, but the ghostly form on the bed.


Thundering hoof beats filled the air around the ranch house as a buggy came barreling into the yard at break-neck speed. Carrying a frightened Doc Martin, who clutched tightly to his black medical bag, his eyes closed tightly, blocking out the surroundings that quickly sped past them; a whispered prayer repeating itself over and over across his lips. At the reins was Adam shouting the order to go faster though he knew his efforts fell on deaf ears. Adam reined up as they approached the porch, and the buggy was jarred violently to a stop. A sigh of relief and a quick utterance of thanks to God escaped Martin’s lips just before he was pulled from the wagon half dragged, half stumbling behind the eldest Cartwright son.

“Adam, slow down for heaven’s sake!”

“He looked dead Paul, when I left, he looked dead,” was the only response that Martin received besides the tormented expression that inhabited the usually controlled features of the young man.

Ben hearing the commotion met them atop the stairs. “Paul thank you for coming in such a hurry.”

“Of course, Ben, you know how I feel about that boy and this family. How is he?”

“I don’t know Hop Sing’s been doing everything he knows how.”

“Adam didn’t know how it happened, has Joe said anything?”

“I’m sorry, but I’m as lost as you, he hasn’t so much as stirred.”

Doc Martin nodded grimly as he entered the room crossing over quickly to take his place beside the young patient. Martin visibly paled at the sight of Joe’s body lying on the bed his skin blending into the bleached white sheets. “I need everyone out except you Hop Sing, I need you to assist me”

“Paul I…”

“No buts Ben. I don’t need the three of you over my shoulder asking me questions, Joe needs immediate care please… I’ll be out as soon as I can.”

Ben nodded his understanding and reluctantly exited the room closing the door and following his sons downstairs to the great room where a long wait laid ahead of them.


“What’s taking so long?” Hoss announced standing up from his place on the settee “It’s done been three hours Pa.”

Ben stopped his pacing and looked up his worried eyes stopping on his middle son. “I don’t know Hoss, I just…” Ben paused and began to pace the floor again his brows furrowed in thought.

The loud creaking of an upstairs door brought every one’s attention to the wooden staircase.

Paul Martin came slowly trudging down the steps his eyes cast downwards on his hands that were unrolling his sleeves back down to his wrists.


Martin’s blue eyes lifted meeting the three anxious men who had quickly surrounded him. “Ben let’s sit down and discuss young Joseph, shall we?”

“He’s gonna be alright ain’t he Doc?” questioned Hoss.

“That’s a question I’m afraid right now I just cannot answer.”

Ben grabbed his friend’s sleeve pulling, the man to face him. “Paul, are you saying…”

“I’m not saying anything at all, I just don’t know. He’s a sick boy Ben, a real sick boy. Now if you’ll please sit down, I’ll explain the situation as clearly as I can. He has a concussion not too severe but considering his condition it shouldn’t be taken lightly as no head injury should be. At the moment though, what concerns me is the injuries sustained to his chest and abdomen, or I should say inside them.”

“Doc, ya sayn’ Little Joe’s insides are all messed up?”

“Yes Hoss, I guess you could say that. I’ve tried to evaluate what happened to him the best I could by using the injuries as a guide. I found some splinters in the wound across his abdomen and a few others in his hands and such, it reminds me of a case I once had…”

“The point Paul, get to the point” Ben urged impatiently.

“Alright. Adam told me Joseph was to arrive home with supplies?”

“Yes and?” Ben breathed exasperated.

“But he arrived on his Pinto, if I so recall, best I can tell Ben there must have been an accident where the wagon flipped and landed across him. That would have had enough pressure to have inflicted the damage done,” he concluded reaching down to a tray in front of him and retrieved a not so hot cup of coffee.

“That’s as good of an evaluation as I’ve thought up, but that still does not tell me how my son is.”

Doc martin sighed and took a sip of the lukewarm liquid quickly placing it back on the saucer, then gave a quick nod to his friend. “The initial blow from the wagon, if that’s what it was crushed his sternum downwards. Four of the ribs couldn’t withstand the pressure and were broken, his lung has been pierced by one of them, by the state of the injury I’d say it wasn’t at first but in his efforts to get to help he inflicted it upon himself. I have fixed the wound and drained the lung, now we have to wait to see what happens. The laceration across his abdomen was I believe to have been caused by the edge of the wagon, the brunt of the impact was sustained there. I’ve already found some bruising which means I’m going to have to watch him closely to make sure no organs within that area bleed or rupture. I’m afraid infection has already begun to set in several places we are in for quite a battle I’m afraid.”

“He’s gonna be alright Doc, I mean he’s been bad off before and made it through jest fine.”

“He’s young that’s one thing he has on his side, but he still hasn’t awaken and when that fever hits and he hasn’t so much as stirred I don’t know if he ever will. I’m counting on your brothers constitution, and a little help from God to pull him through” Martin looked over at his longtime friend and within a matter of minutes he could have sworn he watch the older man age ten years before his eyes. “Ben I’m not saying he won’t pull through”

Ben stood without a word his face etched in an ocean of worry, and pain. Quietly he headed for the stairs.


“I have to see him Paul, I have to see him ALONE” never looking back the elder Cartwright slowly disappeared from sight.


Bens aged fingers ran over one of the youthful hands of his sons, his coffee brown eyes studying the silent figure before him.

“Come on Joseph, son it’s time to wake up now,” he whispered leaning down his lips softly brushing the sweat beaded brow.

“Little Joe stubborn boy, he no listen at all. He wake up when he ready, you see.”

Ben jumped slightly at the unexpected voice behind him then a slight smile touched his lips before fading as quickly as it had come.

“Mista Cartlight you allight?”

“I’m alright Hop Sing, you just startled me. I didn’t notice you were even in the room.”

“Hop Sing be vely quiet, Hop Sing try no disturb, but Hop Sing stay silent no longa Mista Ben look vely sad.”

“I’m glad you’re here old friend. I don’t know what this family would do without you in times like these and others.”

Hop Sing smiled and beamed proudly as he carried a fresh water basin over to the bedside table.

Ben retrieved the small towel next to it and quickly began to soak it before wringing it out and gently began stroking his son’s face. His dark brows furrowed in worry as the cool rag quickly became warm. Ben lifted his free hand letting it come to rest on his son’s brow, “Hop Sing go get the doctor, his fever’s rising.”

Quickly and silently the small cook scurried out the door to accomplish his assigned task.

Ben’s thoughts were shattered at the movement on the bed. His sons head slowly turning a soft moan escaping his chapped lips. “Joseph, Joseph can you hear me son?” The young man’s eyelids slightly fluttered open enough for two fever lit green pools to look up at the figure hovering over him.

“P….Pa,” he croaked.

“Yes son Pa’s here everything’s gonna be alright.”

“I…I’m s…sorry Pa.”

“Shhhhh, Joseph there’s nothing to be sorry for.” Ben reached over and picked up the small glass of water, carefully lifting his son’s head, he placed the glass to his lips letting a few sips enter before his son pulled away to speak again.

“I’m sorry, s…sorry I was late Pa. P…please don’t be m…mad. I’m…no disappointment please.” Little Joes head rolled to the side coming to rest on his father’s chest eyes once again closed.

“Joseph?” Ben’s eyes were wide with sadness at the whispered words of his son. Tears began to well up in his eyes but, only one escaped to cascade down his unshaven cheek.

“Ben? Ben what happened?” Martin asked moving next to his old friend his two sons moving around to position themselves on the other side of the bed.

“He came around, but only for a minute I managed to give him a little water.”

“That’s a good sign Ben, a real good sign. Did he say anything?”

“Yes, yes he did,” the patriarch answered though his voice was clearly distracted.

“Well Pa what’d he says,” Hoss pressed. Ben’s eye’s glanced up from his youngest’s face to look at the crystal blue ones of his middle. “He apologized”

“He what? What on earth for?” Paul asked.

“He apologized for being late. He asked me not to be mad and said something about disappointment. I didn‘t understand” Bens distress evidently echoed in his voice.

Adam’s heart constricted after all that had happened to him, his little brother’s thoughts had gone back to the fight a few nights back and sent him worrying about doing wrong in even a simple way in fear of what he and his father would do or say.

“I’m sure it’s just the fever Ben.  You were right it has risen, quite a bit higher I’m afraid.”

Adam stepped back silently, no longer listening to Paul’s words. He had an almost unreadable expression on his features, as he turned slightly wiping a threatening tear away before it cascaded down and became known to anyone but himself. This movement however did not go unnoticed by Hoss’ watchful eyes as he looked upon his older brother’s form as it walked hastily away disappearing around the sturdy door frame of the small room. Hoss averted his glazed blue eyes over to his younger brother, as his Pa and Doc Martin seemed to move in slow motion, their lips moving in speech, but jumbled sounds is all that reached his ears. His lips pursed together in a straight line of thought before he turned quickly and followed Adams invisible trail out the door.


Adam sat quietly upon the stone mantle of the fireplace, his chestnut irises reflecting the dancing flames as he intently stared upon them as if they could answer some unspoken question. His left hand rubbed the short stubble that stretched across his weary features his dark eyes held some intense and troubled thoughts.

It was almost surprising to Hoss as he came up, undetected, beside his brother. Emotion was a thing rarely seen in his brothers eyes, it was there of course, just always well hidden, always in check.

Adam jumped in surprise to the tight squeeze on his shoulder. His gaze lifted to the large built frame of his brother, one of his massive hands resting on his shoulder trying to give some reassurance. Though his blue depths reflected the need for reassurance deep within them as well, almost like a plea to his older brother to make the current situation better. It was the same gentle look Hoss would give as a child when his heart was in torment. Adams own heart constricted for there was no comforting words that would spill fourth from his mouth. The silence was deafening, the snapping and crackling of the fire maddening. Adam looked away once again in thought.

“Adam,” Hoss whispered in more of just a phrase then a question as he sat down heavily next to his elder sibling.

“Hoss?, I’m…I’m scared Hoss” Hoss looked at the fear etched features looming over the eldest Cartwright son’s features.

“I…I know Adam,” Hoss stammered, he swallowed the lump in his throat trying to convince himself to speak. Scared was a word unheard of in Adam’s vocabulary. He almost looked ashamed to be so out of control of his feelings. “I am too.”

“Hmmm…” Adam’s eyebrows lifted as he looked up from the fire. Hoss quit playing with the hem of his vest and his lips curved in to a slight reassuring smile that he didn’t really feel, but then it dissipated.

“I’m scared to, I’m scared awful like.”

Adam sighed and nodded, some relief actually past his features.

“You know what?”

“What Adam?”

“I was going to apologizing for some of the words I told Joe out of anger the other night. I kept putting it off because of the work around here, and I thought I needed to cool down a bit Joe to. I never thought… I mean I was going to tell him last night, but when he was late I became angry again. He was out there hurting Hoss, and I was angry at him.”

“Aw shucks Adam it ain’t yur fault you didn’t know. Besides you weren’t the only one fummin’. Little Joe knows you didn’t mean what you said, you was jest angry is all. We all speak things we don’t mean when we’re riled.”

“But the things I said Hoss, His eyes were hurt. I didn’t pay attention to them then. I thought maybe he’d listen if I laid it out in cold words. You should have seen the look he gave me.”

(Three Nights Earlier)

“Where have you been!” Adam raged following his retreating brother into the stable.

“Don’t you turn your back on me boy!” Adam growled gripping Joes forearm tightly turning him to face him.

“It’s none of your business Adam!” Joe shouted trying to twisting out of his older brothers vice grip.

Adam used his other hand to grip his brothers jaw and examine the swollen discolored right eye. “You’ve been brawling again. Pa sends you to pick up the mail this afternoon and you come back not only six hours late, but like this!”

“I didn’t start it!” Joe spoke defensively knocking his brother’s hand away.

“No, you never do start it, do you. It’s always someone else’s fault!”

“I’m twenty-two Adam, I’m a man. Cain’t I get into a disagreement without my older brother putting his nose where it don’t belong? When are you gonna quit treating me like a child?”

“When you stop acting like one, that’s when! I’m sick of picking up your slack around here, and if Hoss had the courage to tell you to your face, he’d tell you the same thing!”

Joes face turned red with anger and his fingers clinched into tight fists. “I do my share!”

“Of course you do, you’re share of getting into trouble. All the while Pa sits at home worrying about you when you’re out having fun at poker games. When are you going to quit being so lazy, and start thinking of somebody else for a change. Maybe even be a part of this family, start being a Cartwright, and stop being such a disappointment to PA!” Adam was so lost in his own anger he paid little heed to the expression on the youngest Cartwrights features.

Joes mouthed clamped shut and he backed away a shocked looked on his face. Then the anger rose again as his offense took hold. “You don’t know anything about it Adam!”

“What in tarnation is going on in here?!” Ben’s voice thundered behind them.

Adam started toward his patriarch and tossed a wave in his younger brothers direction. “Your prodigal son has returned,” he spoke acidly walking past his father towards the house. Ben made no move to stop him just crossed his arms and starred at Joes look of hate shot at Adams backside a look that quickly turned into a look of fear as he found his father’s gaze.

“We’ll Joseph?” Ben questioned sternly waiting for his son’s account of his tardiness. Though the misshapen face of his youngest was explanatory in itself.

Ben never noticed his sons eyes searching for something in his, something Joe now imagined was there everyday sense that night – Disappointment.


“Ah Adam, ya didn’t really tell him he was a disappointment to Pa? You don’t really think that do ya?”

Adam sighed and let one of his hands run through his raven hair. then slowly with a grunt of aggravation he stood to his feet. “Of course, I didn’t mean it. Qhat kind of question is that? It slipped out Hoss, I was upset with him.”

“Adam I didn’t mean nuttin’ by it. I was just surprised ya said it’s all.”

“I need some air.”

Hoss watched as his brother walked hastily to the front door without so much as looking back, he exited the door, closing it a little louder than necessary.

Footsteps on the stairs echoed throughout the silence of the house.


“Hello Doc,” Hoss acknowledged looking at Paul who made his way over to the large young man.

“Where’s Pa?”

“He’s sitting upstairs with your brother for a spell. Hop Sing said he’d be down in a moment to fix lunch for you boys.”

“I don’t reckon I feel much like eaten Doc, my insides are all tangled up.”

“You’ve never not been hungry a day in in your life Hoss. When Hop Sing comes down you, as will the rest of your family, will eat something. I don’t want to come back to a house full of sick Cartwrights you hear me?”

“Sure Doc, but you not staying?”

“No Hoss I’ve done all I can for now. He’s not getting worse, and I’ve given him a sedative to help him sleep. If he’s in any pain, I left some laudanum on the side table just in case.”

Hoss nodded his understanding as Paul picked up his hat and headed for the door. Martin stopped as he was pulling the door closed and looked back at the middle Cartwright.

“Call me if there is any change, and remember Hoss, he’s a strong boy, and he’s got the good Lord on his side.”

Hoss let a smile cross his face, “I know Doc, Thanks.”

“Anytime Hoss, anytime.” the door closed and Paul Martin walked slowly across the yard towards his buggy. He caught glimpse of a figure clad in black sitting on one of the banisters on the far side of the porch. A sigh escaped his lips as he shook his head. Words of comfort can be easily given to the younger Cartwright boys, but nothing he could say could help Ben’s eldest when those deep brooding features were set in the dark mask they were in at the moment.

The Cartwrights were a close woven family, who had known many sorrows in they’re lives. Paul made a silent prayer to God that they would not come to know the sorrow of losing a brother or a son.


Darkness dominated the windowless room, the only light emitted from the flame atop an almost completely melted candle. Shadows danced off the walls indicating the presence of several men, all of which but one where surrounding the center table, cards and whiskey glasses spread around piles of bills and coins. One figure stood out the most, standing tall, with broad shoulders in the back corner of the room. His features were covered by shadows showing only his unshaven jaw; a half-burned cigar lay between his lips surrounding him with a thick dense smoke. Across the room the only door leading into the small shack quickly slammed shut. Cheers and sarcastic remarks greeted the new comer who had just entered.

“Hey Johnny, we was beginning ta think you wasn’t comin’ back.”

The stranger smirked pulling of his hat tossing it carelessly to the side thus revealing his handsome but roguish features. “I’m sure you were,” he replied sarcastically eying the drunk and dirty men laughing at nothing in particular, his gaze shifted when his eyes caught movement. Out of the shadows the man that had stood alone walked casually across the floor, taking a moment to pull the stump out his mouth before speaking, “I assume all went as planned?”

“You assumed correctly Bull, the kid’s dead.”

“Did you check the body?”

“Couldn’t. The horses spooked, probably drug that wagon half way to California.” Johnny noted the scowl on the older man’s features and he smiled, “By your expression I’d say you have doubts?”

“I don’t want no Sheriff knockin’ down my door; just cause you assumed Cartwright was dead!” Bull shouted throwing his cigar to the ground crushing it in frustration with the sturdy toe of his boot.

Johnny’s eyes flared, drawing his gun he fired one shot off spinning the gun several times, and then holstering it before any one of the men so much as blinked.

“I don’t miss!” He spat with venom.

Bull smiled as he starred at the shocked man on the floor cards scattered around him one laid face-up on his chest an ace with a hole clean through the center spade.

“You crazy son of…I…I oughta tare you apart” Shorty hollered, quickly trying to stumble to his feet, anger clearly marking his features. The rage was soon forgotten, his skin paling to a ghostly white as soon as he found himself staring down the barrel of his leaders colt. Quietly he slid back, picking up his fallen chair, and sat down. “Deal me another hand will ya Jeb,” he spoke nervously.

Bull lowered his gun ,“So young Cartwright’s dead?”

“Dead and silent as a grave, I had as clear a shot as man could wish for, right through the head, no chances.”

“Well, I believe this calls for a little celebration. Otis, get the men mounted up we’re going to town.”

Whoops and hollers sounded from the gang as they tossed the cards aside and began grabbing their coats and hats. Noisily stumbling out the door several careless shots fired, the loud cracks echoing in the wind.


Hoss’ fork scratched noisily across his plate, pushing the food into different piles. His brows furrowed in frustration as he tried unsuccessfully to figure out how his little brother was able to make it look as if he had eaten his share, though he hadn’t really touched his food. This technique had been used to fool his father and older brother on several occasions Little Joe had named, but all he had managed to do was mix the food into an unrecognizable mush. “Dadburnit,” he muttered tossing his fork to the table in defeat.

Hoss’ outburst gained him two sets of questioning eyes causing him to slink down into his chair, in a futile attempt to fade away. Adam’s right eyebrow took on its regular arched tilt that manifests itself when the young man was either curious or waiting impatiently for an excuse from his little brother after some failed scheme.

“What exactly was that all about son?” His father asked worriedly.

“Ah, it weren’t nothin’ Pa. I was just mad at my foods all.”

Ben eyed the conglomeration that lay in front of his son, while Adam tried to hide an amused smile behind his hand at his brother’s last statement. Hoss frowned at Adam, but then saw amusement in the words he knew were only fully understood by himself.

“I guess that didn’t sound right did it Pa?”

“No son, I don’t think it did.”

“It’s just…My insides are all tied up and food looks down right awful ta me. I’ve been trying ta do that thing Joe does with his food, ya know, spreadin’ it about making it look as if it was half eaten so he don’t half ta eat when he don’t want to?”

“Oh, I didn’t know my son possessed such an ability,” Ben said enlightened

“Yes, I do believe we’ll have to remember that one for later Pa,” Adam added trying none to successfully to hide a laugh at the expression Hoss had acquired upon registering the fact that he had given out too much information. “Ah Adam ya better not say I told, Little Joe’d have my hide fur sure.”

Ben couldn’t stifle his booming laugh any longer as he watched his middle son continue to plead with his elder brother.

Adam raised his hands in defeat, “Mums the word dear brother,” he replied pursing his lips together firmly to emphasize his vow of silence. Hoss grinned, visibly showing his relief.


Hop sing reached down to grasp the sheets and quilt that lay in a crumpled heap at the foot of the bed; tossed there by the young man thrashing about on the mattress. Raising them up, he pulled them back over the boy. The frown that had been ever present on his features all morning deepened noticeably at the sight of the quickly accumulating beads of sweat upon the fevered brow. Working quickly, Hop Sing retrieved the small rag that had been soaking in the bedside basin and wiped it gently across Joes pasty skin, letting the heated perspiration be replaced by cool water. Joe groaned as he turned his head away, his whole body trembled, and he kicked to get the unwanted covers off his body again.

“It’s…It’s hot it’s…”

“No speak little Joe,” Hop Sing whispered, gripping the dampening fabric and holding it in his place with one hand as the other tried futilely to hold in place and stroke the tossing head. The boy moaned deeper and louder, reaching out blindly, grasping at the Chinaman’s hand to make it release the hold it had on his twisting body. Joe cried out as his vain movements caused him more pain. His dark eyelashes fluttered open, slowly revealing his glazed green depths.

“Pa…Pa…” He called out hoarsely pushing himself upwards.

Gently the small cook moved his fingers up and gripped the shoulders of the young boy, carefully, but firmly, he pressed him down into the mattress. Murmurs of Cantonese slipped through his lips as he tried to comfort Little Joe in his native tongue.

Hop Sing rose up casting a worried look at the youngest son before moving swiftly towards the door.


The pounding on the front door echoed loudly off the walls, bringing the three men out of their slow coming conversation around the dining table. Ben tossed a look at both his sons, arching both eyebrows in curiosity.

“I’ll get it Pa.”

“No son, let me,” Ben said wiping the corners of his mouth with his napkin before rising slowly, and walking across to the door in time to open it and seeing Charlie Mills fist raised ready to knock again.

“I’m sorry to bother ya Mr. Cartwright. Hank sent me down to fetch the new shoring. We’re at a standstill, we, we can’t go no further without it.”

Ben’s expression fell grim and this did not go unnoticed by the young ranch hand’s keen eyes. Glancing over across his boss’ shoulder he could see that the Cartwright sons mirrored the expression.

“Did I say something wrong Mr. Cartwright?”

“No Charlie you‘re fine. Would you come in please,” he quickly replied, noticing the man’s worried look.

The cowhand lifted his dusty hat from atop his sweaty brow and quietly entered hoping soon for understanding. He followed Ben who walked quickly over to the large desk positioned in the center of the study and watched the older man sit down and begin fingering through some of the files in the bottom drawer.

“What are you looking for Pa?”

“Adam do you know where I put the extra copy of yesterday’s supply list?”

“I thought you hadn’t filed it yet, remember you placed it in the papers by the ledger?”

“Yes, yes of course. I remember now,” as soon as his fingers gripped the sheet of paper he stood and walked over towards the others, his eyes scanning the list. A frustrated sigh escaped his lips, and he dropped the hand holding the parchment hopelessly to his side.

“The extra shoring is on the list isn’t it Pa?”

“Yes Hoss it is, and I know it’s a lot to ask in these circumstances, but I’m going to need you boys to go in town. Hopefully Walt will still have some stored in the back of the store.”

Hoss nodded taking the list from his father “Are ya sure you don’t need one of us to stay?”

“No, the two of you can get into town and back a lot quicker this way.”

Charlie stood back; still oblivious to what was going on but could tell something was amiss. His fingers began to fumble with the brim of his hat; it wasn’t until a hand touched his shoulder that he noticed he was being talked to.

“Charlie, take this to Hank, it explains everything I need him to do.”

“Yes Sir,” Charlie nodded taking the note from his boss’ hand quietly walking back towards the door where he was being led. He placed his hat firmly upon his head and adjusted the brim slightly to the side. The door was being closed behind him when he reached back blocking the final closing.  “Mr. Cartwright?”


“Well I…I’m not the brightest, but I sure do knows when something just ain’t right.”

Ben sighed and did his best to explain in as few sentences as possible the events that had transpired through the morning. The young man grimaced and paled, “I…I’m sorry, I didn’t know Mr. Cartwright. I hope Little Joe is all right, he’s a real good friend, not just to me but the other fellers to”

“Thank you, Charlie. Tell the men we’ll send word if we hear anything new.”

“Thanks Boss, I know the boys will be glad to hear it.” And with those words said, the door closed and the young man mounted and rode at a faster pace than usual eager to tell his friends about the fall of their comrade.


Ben was startled when he heard his name being called from upstairs. He had just watched his eldest sons ride away after bidding them God’s speed.

“Mr. Cartlight, Mr. Cartlight!”

Hop Sing was on the stairs leaning over the banister. “Little Joe open eyes. He call for you Mista Ben!”

Though Ben had scolded his sons many times for running in the house, He chose this time to forget his words and was now taking the stairs two at a time.


Hoss breathed a sigh of relief as Virginia City finally came into view. It had been quiet as a grave sense he and his brother had left the house, making the trip drag on slowly; minutes feeling like hours. His eyes took another glance over at the man clad in black sitting or maybe more like slouching in his saddle as the chestnut he rode kept pace with the moving wagon. Several times he had thrown a conversation piece at the older man, just for it to hit him and then fall unnoticed to the ground. The all too familiar sign caught his blue irises causing him to pull back firmly on the reins, quickly bringing the buckboard to a stop in front of the mercantile; he set the brakes and looked around before jumping off. Hoss approached his older brother, slowly watching him as he tied Sport to the nearest hitching post.

“Adam, Hoss, how nice to see you boys.”

“Howdy Mr. Owens,” Hoss acknowledged. “My Pa gave us a list of supplies we need back at the ranch.” Hoss pulled the slip of white paper out of his vest pocket handed it over to the older man for him to read. The white mustache that neatly decorated his top lip twitched, and his dark eyebrows furrowed his expression clearly marked with confusion as his eyes traced the items listed.

“There must be some kind of mistake Hoss, Little Joe picked up all these things yesterday. I’m sure of it”

Hoss’ swallowed and he dropped his gaze giving himself a moment to gather himself together. The sudden change in atmosphere did not go unnoticed by the storekeeper’s senses, quickly curiosity and, uncertainty filled his deep brown eyes.

“Hoss, I have a feeling something’s wrong,” he announced while looking intently on the disappearing form of his long time friend’s oldest son.

“There is. Ya see there was an accident yesterday, and the supplies never made it home.”

“Never made it home?” A knowing look crossed his face, and he shook his head. “Hoss don’t tell me, let me guess Little Joe got himself into another spot with your Pa, and by the look of it your brother, too.”

“It ain’t like that, though about now I wish it was. The wagon done crashed yesterday, busted Little Joe up awful bad.”

“I’m sorry. I didn’t know. He’s going to be all right, isn’t he?”

“Don’t know yet. Pa sent us in town to get some more shoring. That new mine operation Pa’s experimenting with is on a complete stand still till it gets there, besides Pa thinks coming to town will take our minds off what’s happening, but to tell ya the truth, it ain’t been helping me one bit.”

“That’s perfectly understandable Hoss.” The older man took one more look towards the direction in which Adam had made his exit; then raised his aged hand to pat the broad shoulder of the young man in front of him. “Tell you what. Why don’t you go catch up with that brother of yours and I’ll have Hank help me load the supplies for you.”

“Ya sure?”

“You know I am.”

“Thank ya kindly Mr. Owens. I appreciate it, I really do.”

“Not at all my boy. Your father has done a great deal for me in the past; it does me good to do a few favors here and there. It should only take us about an hour, but if you don’t hurry, you just might lose that brother of yours.”

“Won’t be no trouble, I kinda figure I know where he’s going.”

“Very well then, I’ll go find Hank and get started on this right away.”

Hoss nodded his thanks again before heading off into the direction, which his brother had disappeared.


Adam paid little heed to the events unfolding around him. He stood, half-leaned against the far end of the bar, the fingers of his right hand encircled around a half-full beer mug. Once again, the glass lifted off the counter top to touch his lips as it had down several times before. A fist came down firmly on the bar next to him startling him a bit.

“Sam!” A familiar voice bellowed, “Beer!”

Adam’s glass lowered slightly revealing the smile behind it, “So I see you’ve found me.”

“Shucks Adam, it ain’t like it was hard,” the big man grinned, propping his elbows onto the counter for support.

Sam walked over casually placing a full mug in front of his regular customer.

“You sure are the last two I’d expect to see in here today.”

“Why is that?” Hoss asked eyeing the large bartender.

“It’s all over town what happened. I’m really sorry about your brother. Ta think I just saw him yesterday.”

Hoss eyebrow’s raised “Ya did? Pa sure woulda been mad if’n he knew. Joe wasn’t supposed ta go no where’s near a saloon yesterday.”

“Well, he was here all right.  Got the damages to prove it,” he sighed, pointing to a place where a couple of tables and chairs were missing. “He and some new fellers in town didn’t see eye to eye. Broke two tables, five chairs, and nine bottles of some of my best liquor.”

Adam frowned disapprovingly at the news, but at the moment considering the circumstances, he didn’t feel the anger that normally would rise up within him.

“So, what happened?” Hoss inquired, his facial expression clearly holding interest in what Sam was telling him.

“Roy came in and broke it up, he was just about ta haul the whole lot of them off when Little Joe swore he’d pay me double for everything if I didn’t press charges. You should of seen his face, it looked as if the fear of God was on him, or you might say the fear of your Pa,” he laughed, but sobered at Adam’s scowl missing the slight twitching at the corners. Hoss gave a light chuckle and shook his head briefly at the painted picture that was given of his brother’s expression during the events of the night before.

“Thought it wouldn’t hurt to let him off this time, besides I was going to make a profit, too.”

“Do you know what the brawl was over?”

“It wasn’t Joe’s fault Adam, incase that’s what you’re thinking. Those new fellers are some bad ones,” he said pointing a finger over to two tables across the noisy room. Sam locked eyes with the leader of the men who smirked with a glare, quickly his hand lowered, and he found sudden interest in the small dish rag in front of him. His large fingers began to wipe the glasses off with the cloth, the same glasses that already had been cleaned earlier.

Slowly the bartender made his way over to a corner and left Hoss puzzled. He looked back to see what had Sam spooked. Approaching was a man who stood two maybe three inches taller than he was. Being a big man at 6’4” this made the stranger a good 6’6” or 7” Hoss’ elbow nudged Adam who turned half way almost hitting the large stranger that had planted his feet firmly in front of him. He pushed the brim of his hat up just to get a good look at the unknown’s face. What he saw was small gray eyes, set deep giving the man a look halfway between a pig and a grizzly. The dark stumble covering his features helped the impression. He had on a long soiled brown duster that covered most of his wide girth, and a Colt 44-40 tied to the right of his hip, where his hand stayed close by every few moments a crack of another knuckle would sound from the flexing fingers. His very appearance was revolting, not to mention the smell that seemed to hover like thick smog around him.

“Couldn’t help but over hear about that brother of yours,” he said, his eyes looked to be sizing them up. Adam for one did not like the man and he knew by his brother’s features Hoss felt the same way.


“Just wanted to offer my sympathies, saw the kid last night, ta real shame he was a real young ’UN, he was.” No one heard the harrumph Sam gave at the man’s reply.

Hoss’ face turned red with anger and he poked the man in the chest, “I don’t like ya talking like he’s dead or something he’s gonna be just fine.”

“Well the way people have been talkin’ I thought…”

“Ya thought wrong!” Adam interrupted.

A flash of disappointment crossed the stranger’s features but was covered instantly before the angry brothers could read the expression. Quickly he backed away, raising his hands in surrender, a phony look of apology on his face. “I’m sorry friend, just misunderstood. Rumors seem to get carried away, ya know?”

Adam nodded, not trusting his voice. Something about the stranger made him on edge.

The large man turned and started to walk away, his eyes flared red, and a murmured curse passed under his breath but was unseen and unheard as he walked back to his awaiting friends circled around the back tables. No one saw the fear in Johnny’s eyes when they met Bull’s steel glare.

Adam flipped a few coins on the bar next to the almost untouched beer mugs. “Let’s go Hoss. I think I need some fresh air” he said gripping his brother’s forearm, leading him out of the saloon and into the bustling streets.


“We sure do appreciate the help, Walt; you to Hank.” Adam thanked, extending his hand in gratitude, Hoss quickly following his brother’s actions.

“No thanks necessary boys, we were glad to do it. I better let you to get a going, I know youre wanting to get home as soon as possible.”

“We sure do,” Hoss smiled.

Adam untied the reins from the hitching post, then mounted quickly onto Sport.  “You coming Hoss?”

His younger brother grinned and began to pull his big frame up onto the driver’s bench.

“Adam, Hoss! You boys hold up a minute, I wanna talk to ya.”

Two sets of eyes searched for the origin of the voice, both landed on the older lawman that was quickly scurrying across the street.

“Howdy Roy”

“Hello boys, looks like I caught you just before you were heading out. Doc told me what happened and I just was curious if ‘n you had any updated news on that brother of yours.”

“We don’t know anything that Paul doesn’t already know Roy,” Adam replied.

“Well, I was figurin’ as much. Kinda makes me wish ole Sam woulda pressed charges, I’d sure as rather be sending Clem out to get your Pa then havin’ the boy hurtin’ the way he is right now.”

“About that ruckus last night Roy, who was them fellers that heckled Little Joe?”

“Don’t know Hoss. They’re new in town, been here a couple of days, and I don’t like ‘em one bit neither. They’re trouble that’s what they are, especially that big one that seems ta led ‘em. What was his name….ah yes his name is Jedidia Bullock, but I heard some of the boys callin’ him Bull. Large man, biggest I seen in a while, reckon he’s a mite taller ‘n Hoss.”

Recognition dawned across both faces. “I think we met him over at the Bucket of Blood.”

“Well, you couldn’t miss him, and I advise you steer clear of him.”

“I plan to, just as long as he stays clear of us,” Adam replied sternly.

Roy didn’t respond, but stood starring down the street, “That rider sure is a coming fast.”

“I’ll say he’s a coming, you’d think the devil was on his tail with how fast he’s a ridin’,” Hoss squinted his trying to focus better.

“Well it better be dog-goned important,” Roy grumbled, taking steps towards the approaching man.

“Hey Adam that looks like Bonner ridin’ on ole Crackerjack.”

Adam followed the animal’s movements, the same ones he recognized from the mare he broke a few weeks prior.

“It is Hoss.”

Bonner pushed the horse faster only slowing down when he saw Sheriff Coffee motioning him to reduce his speed within the city limits, but it wasn’t till he saw the Cartwrights did he rein in his horse, coming to a quick and abrupt halt.

“Bonner what are you in such a dang-fired hurry for, your gonna run that horse plum to death.”

“Your Pa sent me, Mr. Cartwright,” he panted. “It’s Little Joe he’s in a bad way, I was told to ride as fast as this horse could take me to get the Doc.”

Adam didn’t have to hear anymore before he spurred Sport into a dead run.

“Adam!” Hoss shouted. “Bonner you go on an get Doc”

“Yes, sir, Mr. Cartwright,” Bonner squeezed his mare’s flank urging it into a rushed yet slower speed. Hoss looked at the fading dust trail his brother had left behind and quickly began to follow, pushing the horses to the fastest speed they could go without passing the limits of safety. Fear and worry were etched on his features as thoughts of his baby brother plagued his mind.

Roy watched with worry as he was left in the stirred wake of the panicked chaos that hung in the air.


As soon as his dark eyes caught sight of the scene unfolding before him, Adam felt an icy hand reach out and grip his heart. His father stood clutching the shoulders of his baby brother, holding him firmly to the mattress as Joe’s body violently shook from the tormenting cough that wracked through his chest. The sound echoed throughout the room, and he grimaced at the pain etched in it. In a few strides, his long legs took him from standing paralyzed at the door to hovering over the bed, stroking one hand through his brother’s damp curls. Sensing eyes upon him, he glanced up capturing his father’s gaze which held swirls of emotions, the most dominant being that of worry and fear.

“Adam, thank God you’re here son.”

The relief Adam heard in the older man’s voice was definitely clear. He could see the weariness on his father’s features, a tale-tale sign of what he had been through the past while. Looking down at the rolling head. Adam’s brows furrowed and he reached over taking his brothers hand.

“How long has he been like this?”

“His fever spiked just after you and Hoss left. Hop Sing and I have done everything we know how, but he’s getting worse Adam. I just don’t know what to do…I don’t…” Ben raised his hand and pinched the bridge of his nose willing the pounding in his head to cease. Adam seeing this came to stand by his father.

“Pa, why don’t you go down and get some coffee, maybe sit a while. Paul should be here soon, I can watch him until then.”

“No, Adam I’m saying here, Joe needs me.”

Adopting his eyebrow tilt, the younger man’s sienna irises scanned the face of his father.


“End of discussion, Adam.” Ben snapped. Adam clenched his jaw and kept the remark he wished to make to himself knowing his father didn’t mean to be so on edge, the present situation had just pushed him to his limit.

“At least let me help.”

Ben looked into his son’s face and read the expression on his features as only a father could. He closed his eyes and inhaled deeply.

“I’m sorry son, I had no right to speak to you in that tone…I just…”

“It’s alright Pa,” Adam breathed understandingly.

“No…no it’s not. I think I shall go for that cup of coffee; I believe I need it more than I care to admit.” Ben stood to his feet and stretched the creeks out of his tired limbs. Walking up to his eldest he firmly placed his hand upon his shoulder.

“I’ll only be gone a moment.” Ben smiled reassuringly as he walked out of the room a pair of sienna eyes following him until he disappeared.

Adam looked back upon his brother’s face and placed a hand upon his cheek softly running his fingers down the young man’s jaw line. Two fever lit eyes fluttered open.

“Hey little buddy” Adam whispered trying his best to give a faint smile. Joe’s expression remained blank, his eyes held no recognition of the man that sat beside him. A soft moan escaped his lips, and his eyelashes once again came to rest upon his flushed face. Adam’s eyes filled with unleashed tears as he watched his little brother’s features contort into a mask of pain, the feeling that swept over him was an almost unbearable feeling of helplessness. A chocked sob tore out of his throat and he brought a hand up two his face to cover his eyes while tears cascaded down his unshaven cheeks. Leaning his body over the bed he closed the small gap that lay between him and the sibling he loved. Entwining the fingers of one hand with his brothers he rested his head lightly upon Joe’s chest drawing out comfort from the sound of the soft heartbeat that lay beneath, small droplets still pooling on the linen sheets as he wept.


Ben slowly exited the kitchen, slightly stirring his freshly brewed coffee. Bringing the hot liquid to his lips, he almost choked as the front door burst open startling him. His face went from an expression of surprise to one of relief, his mouth formed into a smile upon seeing his largest son coming towards him.

“Hoss good to see you home boy.”

Hoss crossed the floor in two of his wide steps and gripped his father shoulders.

“How’s Joe Pa? Bonner came flying into town like the devil himself was chasing him. He said ya sent him for the Doc.”

“Yes, I sent him Hoss. How far behind are they?”

“Right behind him Ben. Right behind him,” Martin announced walking in carrying his black bag with one hand as the other took the hat from atop his head and placed it upon the rack hanging on the wall.

“Paul,” Ben greeted walking over to grasp the younger man’s hand.

“Good to see you, Ben. Once again, I wish this was a social call instead of the business at hand. Tell me how young Joseph is fairing?”

“His fever spiked a few hours ago that’s why I sent for you. We can’t seem to bring it down.”

“Well, let’s see what I can do, shall we?” Paul smiled reassuringly as he moved towards the stairs, the older Cartwright right on his heels.

Hoss was left looking up after the two men the frown on his face deepening before he forced his feet to obey and climb up to the one place he almost feared to go, not sure how he could handle the useless feeling of not being able to help his baby brother.


A loud crash echoed in the shattered quiet as Johnny came flying through the entrance of the small shack. His body crumbling to the floor in a heap. Turning over, his eyes wide with fright, he started crawling backwards upon his hands, trying as he could to flee from the broad figure coming towards him, fists clinched, knuckles white, eyes burning with anger and murder.

“The kid’s dead you said!” Bull yelled knocking the nearest chair into a wall destroying it. “Dead and silent as a grave, a clear shot, straight through the head no chances!”

Bullock moved forward with extreme speed for a man his size and grasped the collar of the young gunman.

“I thought… I assumed”

“You thought!” Bull interrupted “You assumed! You assume too much for your own good!”

“I’m sorry, please!” Johnny begged pulling away from his bosses vice grip until the feeling of a cold barrel from a colt 44-40 came to rest upon his temple and he froze still, except the fierce tremors that wracked through his body.

“You heard what that book learned pansy said, the boy lived. Now what do you think old man Cartwright is gonna do as soon as his spoiled brat wakes up and cries to his Pa about what happened?”


“Don’t interrupt me! I’ll tell you what’s going to happen. That whole family and Virginia City’s has-been sheriff are gonna be after blood — mine, yours, and all the yella belly’s hiding on the other side of that door! You better believe me when I tell you that they won’t stop till a noose is around every stinkin’ neck here. I’m tellin’ you right now I ain’t goin’ down like that, not after waitin’ out fourteen years for revenge in that rotten, stinkin’ hellhole of a prison. I ain’t gonna!” Bull screamed his eyes wild. The hammer of his gun now cocked ready for his twitching finger to pull the trigger.

“I can fix it, you’ll see, please! The kid he… he’s in a bad way, ain’t even conscious enough to say nothin’ from what they said. I can finish him, silence the brat before he can squeal to the ole’ man. Please, give me a second chance!” Johnny pleaded, his heart pounding so hard against his chest it was deafening to his ears.

“A second chance!” Bull growled lifting the smaller man off the ground only to stand upon his tip toes. “Why should I trust you?”

“Because,” Johnny choked. “I used to work for Cartwright. I know every square inch of the Ponderosa, from every rock, tree, and shrub, to every room in that house, including the kid’s. I could sneak in undetected, kill him before anyone knew what happened. Right underneath Cartwright’s nose, in the one place they thought they could feel safe and secure.”

Bull’s lips slowly curled into an evil smirk, “I like it,” he mused as the hammer of his gun was returned to its rightful position. “Alright you got one chance to pull this off, and if you fail, I will kill you with great pleasure.”

Johnny dropped to the ground, releasing the breath he didn’t even know he had been holding. He raised his hand to wipe away the sweat that covered his brow, relieved to still be alive.

Bull holstered his gun and placed a fresh cigar in between his teeth, lighting it, enjoying the taste as it filled his lungs. His gray eyes averted to the rest of his men who slowly and cautiously slinked in quietly.

“It’s about time you boy’s came in. Now young Johnny here gots himself an idea to save us all from swingin’. So I suggest ya un tuck your tails from between your legs and listen, because one slipup from any one of ya, and I’ll be sending what’s left of you to your dear ole Mama’s in a pine box!”

Growing pale the men drew in closer ears alert, and intently listening as a plan was related to them by the stuttering, nervous gunman in front of them.


Joe had awoken suddenly, his body rising quickly, pushing past the hands that held him, with an unseen strength. He sat doubled-over, his arms bound tightly across his chest, letting out a strangled cry as the unstoppable coughing once again plagued him, causing him an insurmountable amount of pain. It was a few more minutes of struggling before Joe lay back upon the mattress, the hacking sound suddenly, eerily silent as though cut off without notice. The young man’s body continued with the motions of the fit, his chest tight, throat convulsing yet no sound came forth.

Hoss’ eyes grew wide as they caught sight of his brothers’ finger tips and the edges of his pale lips.

“Doc, what’s happening to him? He’s turning blue!” With great alarm, all eyes were upon the man before them.

“I need you boys out of here, you to Ben. Get Hop Sing up here with some boiled water and hurry, I’m going to have to operate immediately.” Paul saw the questioning look in each man’s eyes and answered their unspoken query. “I’m sure he’s broken the stitches causing his left lung to collapse. He’s slowly suffocating, now I have no more time to explain.”

Adam had already cleared the door and was headed with full speed towards the kitchen. Hoss, unlike his brother, backed away slowly till the scene before him could no longer be seen by his terror-filled eyes, but Ben Cartwright remained.

Paul did not scold the man, but simply knew no matter how many times he could tell his friend to leave, nothing could turn this worried father away, so he simply sighed and thought no more of the matter; for time was wasting and very little time is what Joe Cartwright had left.

The clatter of knives and scissors echoed in Ben’s ears, yet he stayed silent. His son’s pale features became etched upon his eye lids yet still he was without voice. The echoing of a laughter he might never hear again sprung from past memories, and then back in the corner of his youngest sons room he wept. His hands covering his eyes, praying to Father God that he would not take his son this day.


The grandfather clock struck 7 O’clock and the great room started to dim as the sun faded beyond the horizon. Hoss reached over to the nearest lamp and turned up the burner, unwilling to let the room be swallowed into the darkness. Though the shadows lifted the weight of despairing emotions remained as heavy and strong as they had this long passing day. Hop Sing had rushed passt a few times, but had no words to give them for he was in great haste. It seemed as if the very quiet of the room was a deafening noise in itself clocks ticking, water boiling, fire crackling all sounds that were made known by the stillness in the air. Hoss grunted and stood to his feet taking only a moment to look at his elder brother who had fallen asleep reading his book. Thankful that Adam had finally found some peace, the larger man moved as quietly as his size would allow, and exited the house headed for his friend and confidant of many years, a stocky raven black horse, fitfully named Chubb. Hoss smiled as soon as two dark eyes looked at him and the animal gave a snort of excitement upon the familiar smell of its master reaching its nostrils.

“Hey there Chubb, how ya doin’ girl.”

Knowing there would be no answer, he just smiled and softly patted the horse’s muzzle. Taking the small bucket off the peg on the wall, Hoss dipped it into a nearby barrel of oats, before pouring it into Chubb’s feeding tray.

“It’s been a long day girl. I’m sorry I didn’t take ya riding today, but I promise will go out when I can.”

Chubb bobbed her head then began to eat greedily; her ears up and alert, listening to every sound her master made, for his voice brought a calming comfort to the beast. He ran his fingers through the coarse mane while his other hand softly stroked Chubb’s neck, before he gently leaned towards the animal, resting his chestnut locks onto her black hairs. A tune, though not always the right pitch, filled the air as Hoss began to hum. He closed his eyes breathing in the smell of the pines that covered the land he loved so much; finding his comfort, his peace.


Ben stood on weary feet, peering quietly through the large doors of his barn. His eyes were set watching his middle son holding onto his horses neck, softly humming a tune that Ben remembered so very well. A smile touched his lips for it was the sweet tune of a Swedish lullaby, one which had been sung many times by Inger on their journey west. The memories of long ago ceased as the humming stopped and Hoss began to speak to his horse just like he had done for ages, especially though the years of school; when Hoss had struggled with the teasing of other children because of his size.

If horses could talk,’ Ben thought. ‘To think of all the stories, spilled emotions that lay locked within the sealed lips of the silent animals be it Chubb, or Cochise, and even Sport, though Adam would never admit to having a one-sided conversation with a four-legged creature.’ Ben smiled, slicking back his silver hair with one hand as he quietly made his approach.

“….Ya know what I mean Chubb, how I feel?”

“I understand how you feel,” Ben whispered softly.

Hoss jumped turning most ungracefully on his heel, eyes wide, “Pa I didn’t know you was…I mean how long where you…you”

“Not long Hoss, not long.”

Hoss turned back to his horse and scratched behind its ear, “I just came out to feed her Pa, with all the rush it got late. I’m sure she was just about starved.”

“I’m sure she was.”

Questioning blue eyes looked back, locking a gaze with the man behind him, and though afraid to, he spoke, “How’s…how’s Joe Pa?”

Ben erased the distance between them and placed his hand on the boys broad shoulder.

“That’s what I came out here to talk to you about. Paul said he was going to be fine.”

Hoss looked deeper into his father’s eyes seeking reassurance, “But Pa, he was so bad off, he was…when we left…” Hoss not finding his words trailed off.

“Let me explain it to you. Paul said when he went back in to repair the damage, he found a piece of debris hiding. It was deeply imbedded, that’s why he missed it this morning. It was causing an infection, that’s why his fever was spiking.”

“What about pneumonia Pa, he’s still got to fight it?”

“No, he doesn’t Hoss. Paul said that same splinter was positioned where it could irritate the lung, it was hindering his breathing, not pneumonia.”

“So he’s gonna be alright then, he… he ain’t gonna die, he’s stayin’… that’s what your sayin’.”

“Yes, Hoss that’s what I’m saying.”

Moving forward, Hoss enveloped his father in a crushing embrace, tears cascading down his face though a smile stretched across his features. Backing away he wiped at the salty drops with his beefy hands.

“Does Adam know?”

“I told him just before I went to find you.”

Hoss looked towards the entrance of the barn and Ben took this as a sign to head back to the house taking the lead, he exited the structure his son following directly behind.


“Now I want you boys to remember he’s still a sick boy, It’s going to take a while for him to heal, but he’s in no danger as long as we keep him still and let his lungs and ribs mend properly.”

“Thank you, Paul, for everything.”

“No thanks needed my friend. I’m only sorry I made such a foolish mistake.”

“It was an accident. Most men would have never found it, we were lucky you are not like most men.”

A smile crossed the doctors face, and he shook his head, “I am grateful you all have such strong faith in me”

“You’ve given us good reason to Doc,” Hoss grinned.

“Well, I’ve given Hop Sing some instructions on the salve to place on little Joe’s abdominal wound and some of the other cuts and scrapes, so I believe I’ll be on my way.”

“Why not stay here for the night Paul, it’s a long way to Virginia City in the dead of night.”

“I thank you for the offer Ben, and I’ll accept on one condition.”

“And that would be?” Ben asked with a twinkle in his eyes.

Paul smiled, “Hop Sing makes one of those amazing dinners of his.”

Laughter rang out and Ben wrapped an arm around his long-time friend.

“I do believe that can be arranged, besides I think we could all use a good meal.”

“Ya got that right Pa,” Hoss chimed in.

“I thought you weren’t hungry Hoss,” Adam said, smiling almost sarcastically.

Hoss frowned and wrinkled his nose, “That was then, this is now, and right now I’m starved.” With his words spoken, he headed out the door, the rest following; only Adam stopped to look back at his baby brother who he promised silently that he would return shortly.


Smoke rose up from the small fire which sat between a circle of unsavory looking men. All eyes rested upon Bull who held in his hands worn and discolored sheets of paper each had the scribbled efforts of maps and different angles of the ranch house.

“This here,” Johnny pointed. “This here’s the kid’s room, just directly to the side on the east.”

“What’s this?” Bull questioned, fingering the almost unrecognizable scratches.

“That’s our access to the roof.”

Bull smiled, “Do elaborate.”

“Well, you see this here is the bunk house, extending off the side, it’s just under Cartwright’s window. Right beside it is a log pile, they keep it stocked by the week, so I will be able to get up and across to the window easy from there.”

Bull nodded his understanding looking at all the attentive faces around him. “You’ve all heard your positions, so I don’t want any screw ups. Johnny when’s the best time to hit?”

“We should move out before dawn. Adam’s an early riser, we’ll want to hit before he’s up or after he’s left, if he leaves that is.”

“What about the oriental?”

“You mean Hop Sing? He’ll be up, but that’s nothing we can’t handle, he’ll be downstairs, and if he goes out Cal and Otis will be covering the west side, they can take him out if need be.”

“What about Old man Cartwright and that giant of his?”

“See these two rooms?” Johnny pointed, “Them two are their rooms.”

“Good so they’re across the other side.”

“B…Boss what if’n one of them fellers is in the room with that brat?” Shorty cautiously interrupted.

“I’ll deal with that if or when it comes.”  Tossing the pages into the fire, Bull smiled, taking a moment to pull his cigar stub out and blow rings of smoke across to mingle with the ash of the camp fire before him. “You boy’s get some sleep we, got a Cartwright to kill come morning”


Adam weaved his fingers through those of his brother’s, the tips rubbing gently across the clammy skin. With a heavy sigh, he leaned forward in an attempt to relieve the ache in his back; physical proof of the long hours he sat unmoving in his bedside vigil. A smile touched his lips upon hearing the loud thunderous clamor that could only be explained as Hoss’ snoring across the hall. His father laid a sleep a few doors down because Adam had convinced him to rest. The young man’s free palm rubbed at his eyes pushing back the tiredness that fought unmercifully to pull down on the heaviness of his lids. He had given up reading his book retiring it to the bedside stand, nothing Shakespeare or Thoreau had to say interested him at the moment. A yawn escaped his lips and he cast his eyes towards the small clock atop the dresser across the room which read clearly 1:00 am. Groaning inwardly, Adam leaned back in his chair stretching out, hoping to become more comfortable. Feeling at peace he let his lashes rest upon his cheeks and quickly sleep came to him. He never felt the fingers slightly tighten on his hand nor did he see the green orbs that watched him intently. A few minutes passed before Joe’s grip slackened and his eyes fell closed once more, tiredness taking him once again back into unconsciousness.


The morning sun barely peeked above the horizon bringing a stream of faded light to chase away the night. Doc Martin stood by the fire place drinking the freshly ground coffee Hop Sing had just handed him

“What you do up so early?  Nobody wake for little while,” Hop Sing questioned.

Paul let his cup come to rest upon it’s saucer before looking at the smaller man with a smile spread across his face.

“I have some business that needs attended to this morning. Don’t worry I told Ben last night I would be leaving early.”

The cook frowned and crossed his arms, “You need eat, Hop Sing have breakfast for you no time at all.”

“I’m sorry Hop Sing, believe me, I’d like nothing better than to stay for another amazing meal, but I really need to go. Would you please tell Ben I said thank you, and also that I will drop by to check on Joseph later?”

“Hop Sing tell him.”

“Thank you,” Paul smiled as he handed his empty cup back to the cook. Reaching down he picked his hat up off the table with one hand placing it atop his head, while the other hand grasped firmly to his medical bag. Walking towards the door Martin stopped momentarily to offer his final goodbye before he exited the house closing the door behind him. Taking his time, he slowly made it to the barn preparing himself to hook up his buggy. Moving shadows caught his eye and he look around wildly. A nervous uneasiness spread through his veins though he did not know why. The air seemed to grow thick and the strong aroma of a Cuban cigar filled his nostrils. Seeing only shadows his voice broke out. “Who’s there, who’s….ngth!”

He never saw the face of the man who now stood over him, he only felt the pain that exploded through his skull as the butt of the figure’s gun connected in a powerful blow. It was then Doc Martin knew darkness and his body laid in a crumpled heap upon the ground.


Johnny’s hands came to rest upon the split logs that formed his ladder to the roof. He looked at Dex who stood watch in the hayloft, watching for a chance to go. Receiving the signal from his comrade he proceeded to searched for sturdy holds and quickly began his ascent trying as best as he could to move in silence.


Ben’s feet casually stepped down the steps in his decent to the great room. Stealing a glance at the clock he sighed knowing it was still too early for his sons to be up. He wasn’t surprised that he was awake before Adam this morning for his mind seemed to be uncalming with a constant flow of thoughts though this time they were not fearful like the night before.

Hop Sing popped his head out of the kitchen and smiled at the older man who just took his seat in his favorite red leather chair. Retreating back only a moment the small cook soon reappeared with a tray in hand its contents quickly filling the air with the aroma of newly ground beans.

“Mista Cartlight Hop Sing make you fresh cup of coffee.”

Startled, Ben tensed but soon recovered when his eyes meet his friends approaching form.

“How did you know I was awake?”

“When you Cartlights learn Hop Sing know evely thing.”

Ben couldn’t help but give a small laugh at the cooks statement, “You’re right Hop Sing, you’re right, I wasn’t thinking.”

The cook grinned handing the cup and saucer to the house hold patriarch.

“Has Paul awaken yet?”

“Mista Martin alleady left, just before you come. I no hear horses leave yet, must still be in barn.”

Taking a last sip of his coffee Ben stood to his feet. “I think I’ll go check, I won’t be but a minute.”

Nodding the Chinaman gathered the dishes up and watched Ben exit out the front door.

Walking across the yard Ben never saw the men who watched him like a hawk nor did he see Bull signal to Johnny.

The creek of the door echoed loudly and Ben stepped in slowly his eyes noting the presence of the buggy and team that sat untouched but no sign of the doctor about. A curious expression crossed his features and he crouched down running the tips of his fingers across the ground letting some of the substance that laid at his feet cling to his skin. He rubbed it together bringing it up to his nostrils and inhaled the scent that emitted from it. Dread hit him full in the chest as the substance was registered as blood. “Paul!” Ben shouted rising up, venturing forward cautiously examining his surroundings “Paul are you alright?”

Dex came soaring from his place in the hayloft his body colliding with great force against the older man, knocking him to the ground. Instantly Ben began his retaliation pushing the younger man off him and attacking with an assault of punches which Dex did his best to block and still managed to throw his in connecting a few strong blows to Cartwright’s jaw.

The structure held scarce light and gave Ben little chance to see the man in which he was entangled with in this struggle. He felt his breath escape him as a fist connected to his abdomen. He stretched out his fingers clasping tightly to the strangers shirt pulling the man closer allowing himself to climb to his feet as his opponent was pulled to the ground. Ben regained his stability and wiped the blood from his split lip with the back of his hand. “Who are you?” he growled watching the shadow of his enemy waiting for a sign of his next move.

“None of your business!” Dex growled, launching himself at his opponent and they both tumbled rolling back and forth in the dirt and hay. Feeling a chain wrap around his neck Ben lashed out at the man behind him. His fingers encircled around the metal pulling at it with all his strength backing up slamming the man’s body into the wall.

Ben’s world was swimming, his body sinking slowly as his knees began to buckle. It was then a scream echoed and the chain dropped allowing the older man to fall to his knees coughing placing a hand on the tender part of his neck. Hands gripped his soldiers, and he looked up to see Doc Martin crouched next to him a worried expression on his face.

“Are you alright Ben?”

“I’m alright Paul. Thank you. How about you?” Ben asked looking at the blood streaked down the side of the man’s face.

“I’m fine, just a knock on the head.”

Paul smiled, helping the older man to his feet before checking on the body lying beside them. Ben saw the blood pooling from the man’s back and new he was dying. Martin shook his head, his hand pressed firmly against the wound he had caused and felt sick as his eyes kept locked on the gunmen in front of him. “I’ve sworn an oath Ben, an oath to do all that is in my power to help save lives with the knowledge I have been given. I’ve never… I mean I never thought I’d…”

“You did what you felt you had to do, there’s no shame in that.”

“I know Ben,” Martin sighed.

Dex reached up gripping Bens collar pulling him down so they were face to face. Allowing the strangers features to be seen for the first time.

“Who are you?” Ben growled angrily.

“I…I…st…still w…won…cart…wright…we still…won”

“What’s that supposed to mean? What are you doing here!”

Dex smiled an eerie grin, his teeth coated in the blood that filled his mouth the same blood that choked him.

“I’ll…g…greet…your…s…s…son in…in h…ell for you,” a slight laugh sputtered from his lips as his last breath left him and his eyes were left holding the look of the dead.

“What did he mean by that Ben?”

“I don’t know,” Ben whispered in concentration. “Paul come with me I have a feeling he wasn’t alone!” The older man stood to his feet before making a mad dash to the house the doctor pushing himself to keep up.


Johnny frowned as his eyes caught sight of Adam Cartwright asleep in a nearby chair, but a smile crossed his lips upon noticing the older boy had opened the windows enough to let in a small breeze thus allow easy entrance for himself. Waving at his boss, he signaled that he was entering. Clasping the window frame tightly, he stepped in a foot at a time, cringing when his arm knocked over a frame on a nearby table. His eyes darted the elder Cartwright as his body stirred in the chair yet settled quickly allowing the intruder to relax his tense muscles.

Unholstering his gun, he held tightly to the butt, slowly creeping towards his first obstacle. Tripping, a clatter rang out, but even as Adam jumped to his feet in alarm he never had a chance to register the sound for Johnny’s gun plowed into the back of his skull, sending consciousness fleeing from the man as his body laid unmoving upon the wooden floor.

Johnny scanned the room, examining the habitat in which his prey lived. He snorted in disgust at the sentimental trinkets that laid scattered about on some of the shelves and desks. His smile returned upon locking sight of the young man who laid bundled in the mass of sheets and blankets. Step by step he came closer till he stood hovering over the boy looking down at him with an expression that regarded his life as no more significant than an insect that he would crush underneath the toe of his boot. His hand came to rest upon Joe’s cheek and then not so softly he began his attempt to wake the boy. When the youngest Cartwright failed to respond Johnny griped tightly to the fabric of his nightshirt and in one swift movement pulled him from the bed, letting his body drop heavily to the ground.

With a painful and startled cry, Joes eye’s snapped open. He grasped his chest and moaned, not quite aware of what was happening around him. It was a few seconds before he locked his dazed stare onto the man standing over him and his eyes filled with fear.

“Wakey, wakey kid. I gots a job to finish.”

“C…C…Carter,” Joe exclaimed though it only came out as a hoarse whisper.

“Well, it’s nice to see some one remembers me around here.” Bending down he picked Joe off the ground like he weighed next to nothing, and his hand covered the boy’s mouth, preventing the strangled cry that followed to be anything more than a muffled sound barely audible to a man’s ear. Little Joe felt a deeper sense of dread fill him as rope was slid around his neck. His mind screamed for help, and he fought back, but his body only struggled lightly and it was not enough to challenge even a weak opponent. The youngest Cartwright ceased his movements and stared at the figure that lay on the floor nearby. Seeing the blood pooled around his brother’s head made his heart constrict, and for a moment he forgot the rope that suddenly became tighter taking his life’s breath away.

“Nothing personal Joe. This is just the job and while doing it, I get a little revenge on that stinkin’ book-learned brother of yours! As you feel yourself slippin’ away remember it’s he who done it to ya.” Johnny laughed in his ear.

Taking the boy to the floor he pressed is knee into the small of his back and prepared to make the kill. Joe’s fingers clawed at the floor, desperately trying to get away, but all he felt was intense pain. A tear slipped down his cheek as his eyes stayed unmoving on his brother’s face. He loved Adam and was sorry he would never have a chance to prove himself to him, and with those thoughts he forced his hand across the boards, willing it to touch his brothers hand. When the youngest Cartwright felt the older man’s finger tips he closed his eyes hoping darkness would come release him from the pain that held him captive.

Adams lashes fluttered as consciousness summoned him and he groaned inaudibly at the pounding he felt in his head. Sliding one hand up he touched his crown cringing when he felt the deep cut. Opening his eyes, he slowly tried to make sense of the flashing shapes and lights around him. Focusing the best he could, the first thing he saw was his out stretched hand the fingertips of which held those of his baby brother. He though quickly becoming aware of his surroundings was not prepared for the sight that lay before him. Johnny Carter a man whom he hadn’t seen for over three years and wouldn’t mind if he never crossing paths with again was knelled down, his knee pressed viciously into his brothers back while his hands pulled a rope tightly across the boys neck. A savage cry tore from him and Adam raised to his feet with a speed no one would have thought possible. Johnny seeing this released his hold and drew his gun pulling it up to take aim. Adam tackled him with all the force that was within him, and the Colt clattered unfired to the ground sliding away from the two brawling figures.

Adam was not surprised when he felt himself getting the worst of the fight for his head was splitting and focusing on the man was a feat in itself. His brothers life however was on the line and for that reason he would not fail. When Johnny’s fist connected in a solid punch to his jaw Adam felt himself fall backwards against the wall, dazed.

Joe lay hacking violently beside the ongoing struggle, he looked up watching as his enemy pulled a knife from the sheath on his thigh and proceeded in advancing towards his brother. Fear gripped him when the two collided again a second time. Adam grasped tightly to Johnny’s wrist, which inched closer to his chest, a knife gripped tightly underneath his fingers. Clenching his jaw, the older Cartwright pushed harder, his efforts giving him little progress.

Casting his eyes beside him Joe saw the discarded Colt laying a few feet away. Holding his breath he stretched forth his arm in an attempt to reach it, but saw himself falling short of his goal. raising to his elbows he pulled forward dragging his body across the floor. Beads of sweat collected on his brow, his lip was tucked tightly between his teeth in hopes that his cries would stay unvoiced. The cold steel felt good against his finger tips and he exhaled deeply as the gun rested fully within his hands. Turning over he propped his weary body against the bed and with shaky arms he lifted the gun aiming it at the man that right now he hated more than anything.

Adam could feel the point of the blade make first contact with his skin and he bit back a cry as his attempts to keep it going in further were failing.

Joe tried to focus but his vision was splitting making it almost impossible to shoot in fear he might miss and hit his brother. Adam’s cry resounded in his ear and anger coursed through him. Praying to God for accuracy he cocked the hammer and with a deep breath he pulled the trigger flinching as the explosion from the gun echoed in his ears.

Carter’s eyes grew wide and his strength had appeared to leave him, for Adam pushed him off without effort. The man sat on his knees in shock; it was only a moment before the knife dropped from his hand and he started to convulse and sputter. His fingers touched the hole in his chest, and he looked at the crimson on his finger tips as if it were an impossible phenomenon. Without word he dropped to the side and his chest fell, not rising again.

Breathing heavily, Adam looked at the fallen man in disgust. Staggering to his feet he cast his eyes behind him in the direction where the shot were fired. He looked in surprise to see his baby brother propped against the bed post, a gun in his hand, which at that moment he let slip from his fingers and drop unnoticed to the floor, letting his body sink as exhaustion over took his very being. Adam rushed forward and dropped to his knees pulling his brother into his arms holding him as tremors shook through his body. Adam entangled his fingers within the boys hair holding him so close as if trying to convince himself that he indeed was real. Tears of relief slipped from both their eyes thanking God for the safety of one another. Joe grasped his siblings shirt collar breathing in it’s comforting scent of Bay Rum.

“Oh Adam!” he cried letting his lashes fall closed and stick to the dampness of his face.

Kissing the boy’s crown, Adam choked and held tighter, resting his cheek against the head of curly locks. Finding the voice in which he lost Adam whispered, “It’s alright buddy, It’s alright.”

That is how Ben and Paul found them upon entering the room, almost taking the door down in the process. Hoss appeared behind them in a disheveled mess, but gun in hand, “Pa?” he asked questioningly.

Adam looked at his father, who was momentarily focusing on the figure on the floor before locking is gaze with his two sons that lay in each other’s arms. “He was going to kill Joe Pa.”

Kneeling beside both sons he caressed his eldest face, his eyes holding worry, “Are you both alright son?”

“I’m fine, just a little sore. Joes exhausted.”

Ben wrapped his arms around them and then pulled Hoss down to do the same, “For a moment there when I heard that gunshot, I thought I’d lost one of you boys.”

Paul examined the body that lay unmoving on the floor, one look and he knew he was dead. Looking at Adam with questioning eyes, the younger man knew what was being inquired.

“His name’s Johnny Carter, he worked for us a little over three years ago. That is of course until I caught him rustling our cattle.”

“It looks like he held a mighty big grudge against ya Ben,” Paul sighed, walking over to the four men, three of which looked like they had been in a bar room brawl.

“It wouldn’t be the first time we had a disgruntled employ, and I hope I’m wrong in saying it probably won’t be the last.”

“I hope your wrong too Ben, I’m running out of room in my filing cabinets for your family’s medical records.”

“Just as long as you can still manage today’s, I think we’ll be fine.” Ben laughed

Paul stood to his feet and straightened his less than presentable jacket and headed out the door. “I’m going to fetch Hop Sing I need a few things before we begin. Hoss you might want to take Mr. Carter down to the store room till we can call out Roy. I’ll be back in just a moment.”

“Alright Paul,” Ben replied.

“Hoss will you help me get your brother on his bed.”

Standing to his feet, Hoss lifted Little Joe from his position in Adam’s lap, allowing his older brother to rise slowly to his feet with a little help from his father.

“Ow!” Joe complained opening his eyes “Watch where your poking!”

“Sorry ‘bout that Joe,” Hoss apologized, it was only a few seconds that passed when it struck the large man full force that his brother had spoken to him for the first time sense the accident. “Joe!” he exclaimed. “You’re awake!”

Ben moved over to the bed and pushed back his youngest sons curl’s a smile full on his face, “You’ve had this family worried young man.”

Joe frowned then gave a small grin one, which at the moment he didn’t really feel. “Sorry Pa didn’t mean to.”

Looking up at Adam Ben asked, “When?”

“It must have been some time after I was knocked out, I didn’t know till after I came to and fought Carter that he was okay. I thought I was dead then I heard the shot ring out and knew surely you or Hoss had arrived. I looked back and got the surprise of my life to find Joe with the smoking pistol.”

“Touching, very touching” Bull smirked standing within the door way the barrel of his gun aimed steadily at them. The atmosphere turned grim, and Ben’s face turned white as the man came closer his features completely visible

“By the look on your face I’d say you remember me old man.”

“I remember Jedidiah,” Ben said in a low growl.

“What have you done to Paul?”

“Don’t worry none about the good ole’ Doc He and that cooky of yours are keeping a couple of my men company at the moment. I ain’t got no score to settle with them.”

Looking over at Johnny Bull snorted, “Shoulda killed the idiot when I had the chance. If you wanna job done write ya gotta do it yourself I always say.”

“If I remember correctly Jedidiah, your last endeavor didn’t come out quite as you planned,” Ben smirked.

Bull saw red and in one swift movement his colt was cocked and placed roughly at Bens head, “You think you’re so funny don’t you, did you really think I’d let you get away with what you did? I spent the last fourteen years in prison because of you and that stupid Sheriff, but he got his.”

“Ricard?” Ben breathed in surprise.

“Dead. Poor man had an unfortunate accidentk much like your boy’s here, of course he didn‘t survive his.”

“Monster!” Ben seethed

Jedidiah smiled and backed away looking from his enemy to the three sons whose features held identical looks of confusion, “Why Benny boy I’d think you didn’t tell them about me.”

“Didn’t feel the need to waste their time nor mine.”

“What? Afraid they’d think down on you for being a murderer.”

“It was self-defense, I would have never had to raise my gun in the first place if you and your men wouldn’t have tried to rob the San Fransisco Liberty Bank.”

“You kilt my baby brother! He was only fifteen!”

“He fired the first shots Bullock not me. A dozen other men were involved in that shootout too. Sheriff Ricard deputized us all, we we’re well within the law.”


“It seems to me you’ve forgotten that it was you who placed him in the situation that got him killed.”

His face red Bull, aimed his gun at the elder Cartwright ,“A life for a life, a boy for a boy.” Moving his gun he pointed the barrel at Joe’s chest and began to pull the trigger.


Hop Sing slinked through the door quietly and for the moment unnoticed. Gripping the frying pan tightly he positioned himself behind the man. He looked up in awe at the size of his opponent, but recovered and jumped up bringing the skillet down onto the giants head. The gun fired sending the bullet crashing into the wall across the room. Hop Sing smiled in satisfaction when the large form fell to the floor.

Ben looked at the small cook in surprised relief, “Hop Sing ,you have impeccable timing.”

“Hop Sing know.”

Paul burst in the door. “For land sakes Hop Sing, I thought you we’re going to wait until we were armed.”

“Hop Sing is armed” The Chinaman snapped, lifting up is pan.

“I meant guns.” Looking at the Cook’s expression Paul raised his hand’s in defeat, “Alright, alright you win.”

“Are you boys, okay?”

“We are now,” Adam answered. “How did the two you manage this.”

“Well, that would be thanks to the arrival of your men Ben. They have three of the lookouts tied up in the store room. I believe there were more I heard horses riding away from here I’m assuming things got a little too hot for them though I don‘t suspect they‘ll get to far with some of your hands tracking them down. I sent Charlie for Roy I figured we could use him about now.”

“That would be a correct assumption,” Ben replied before continuing, “Hop Sing, would you go down and boil some water, and get a few towels. While you’re down there, send a few of the men up to secure Jedidiah and take him and Carter down stairs.”

“Wait, I’ll get the boys Hop Sing, I’m headed for the barn anyways, I need to get my bag. I’ll be right back Ben, and this time I mean it.” Paul smiled at his ending statement and proceeded to follow Hop Sing out the door

Ben nodded and watched both of the men leave before turning his attention to the most important thing his heart knew, his sons.



Two days had passed slowly. Roy had come and gone taking with him the bodies of those who had brought so much grief upon his friends family. The men who had fled were locked away behind bars thanks to the ranch hands persistence and unwavering loyalty.

The threat on their family had been extinguished, and now it was time for things to return to how they were supposed to be. The memories would fade, much like the bruises both father and sons wore, though it would take time, time is what they needed.

Joe said very little, most of the last day and a half he spent resting thanks to Paul Martin’s elixir. Of course though the young Cartwright would never admit to it, he felt as if he could have slept just fine without any help from a bottle, but he did have an image of stubbornness to withhold and he wasn’t about to appear weak, though no one expected anymore from him except maybe himself…………….


Adam had just entered into his brother’s room, checking on him before heading off to bed for the night. Even from where he was standing Adam could tell that Joe’s mind was a million miles away and something was definitely troubling the boy. Though Adam wasn’t for certain what had the young man distracted, he was pretty sure he could guess what was causing the forlorn look in his sibling’s eyes. “Can I come in?” he announced.

Joe looked over at his brother startled by the break in his rooms silent atmosphere. “What are you doin’ up Adam?”

“Sorry I surprised you, Joe. I just dropped in to talk. I know it’s late, but it’s important.”

“Talk? What about?”

“I just wanted to know how you’re doing,” sighing inwardly Adam scolded himself. Why was it so hard to say what he needed to say. He had just promised himself that he would make things right with his brother when he had the chance and now even though he had suffered through so much inner turmoil these past few days he still felt like procrastinating, but he knew that his heart would not allow him.

“That’s what’s so important?” Joe spouted, confused.

“No… Actually, what I really wanted to say is… Joe when I yelled the other night, I guess… I mean I know I lost my temper and I shouldn’t have, and I ‘m sorry.”

“You don’t have to apologize Adam.”

“Yes, yes, I do. I was wrong.”

“Sometimes anger is a person’s way of letting out feelings they’re withholding. That’s exactly what one of them fellas said in that book you had me read,” Joe whispered.

Closing his eyes Adam pinched the bridge of his nose letting a frustrated groan rumble in his throat. “I wasn’t doing any such thing Joe,” he waited for a contradicting remark from his brother, but it never came. Gazing down at the boy’s partially hidden features Adam could see the tears pooling in his hazel depths and it made his heart constrict “Joe?” Leaning down Adam sat upon the bed placing his fingers on his sibling’s chin. “Please talk to me. You know I’ll listen to whatever you have to say”


“Yes, little buddy?”

“Am I…am I a disappointment to you?” Joe croaked.

Adam nearly choked on his own voice almost afraid to speak might it betray him. Moving closer to his brother he embraced him letting his chin come to rest on the boys crown, tears stinging in his eyes. He could feel Joes tears soak through his shirt as the boy’s body shook with tremors as he wept.

“Never,” Adam breathed. “Do you hear me, Joe? Never!”

“W…what?” Joe choked looking up at the older man.

“You have never been a disappointment to me, not ever. I…I’m so very proud of you boy don’t you know that?”

Joe buried his face deeper into the man’s chest. “I… I’ve always wanted to be like you Adam. I’ve tried so hard, but I can’t seem to…I couldn’t…”

“Joe…” Adam interrupted, “…I have never expected you to be like me, no one has, and we wouldn’t want you to. You’re perfect just being you.”

“But I mess up all the time”

“And I don’t?”

“Well…well sometimes maybe, but not like I do.”

“Joe, I’m thirteen years your elder. I had already made so many mistakes before you were even born, or even old enough to remember. I wasn’t Pa’s perfect son you know, nor have I ever been. Just because I have college education doesn‘t mean I‘m incapable of screwing up.” Adam smiled. “Besides if you were me, I wouldn’t have a reason to be jealous of you now would I?”

“Jealous…of me? What for?”

“Because you have a love for life that makes you want to live every day to the fullest, enjoy every moment, Sometimes I have to admit I’ve been jealous of that because I can’t seem to look at the world in the same way.” Adam ran his fingers through his raven hair, letting the words he wanted to say have time to organize in his mind. “What I really wanted to tell you Joe is that there was a few times, I thought I might lose you this past week, and I would have never forgiven myself if the last thing I had said to you were a load of angry lies. I love you so much boy, and I should have never let the sun set on my anger.”

“I love ya to Adam. I’m sorry I got in that fight, I just lost my temper. Ole’ Ned Collins was runnin’ his mouth off again. I know I should have ignored him like you said, but he insulted ya Adam, and I got mad.”

“The fight at the saloon was about me?”

“Yeah, don’t no one get away with callin’ ya names but me.”

“Are you saying you call me names?” Adam asked with a fake glare.

Looking overly innocent Joe grinned “Me? Ne-ver.”

“I’m sure you wouldn’t,” Adam smiled as he placed his arm around his brother and gave a gentle squeeze. “Don’t ever believe I’d ever think of you with anything else but pride!”

Standing to his feet Adam stretched out his tired limbs “I better get to bed. I have two sets of chores to do while you’re playing hooky.” Dodging a pillow, he took refuge in the hall. Peeking in only a moment to grip the door knob, a smile at the boy who was hunting another object to hurl, “Good night, Joseph,” he spoke smugly.

Joe scrunched up his noses then smiled deviously “Night Yankee granite head!” Joe chorused behind him. A snort of laughter followed Adam out of the room and he couldn’t help but laugh himself as he closed the door. It was finally going to be ok. Everything was the way it was supposed to be. Still hearing the giggle from behind the wall he smiled inwardly it was a priceless sound he would never again take for granted.

The End



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Author: Preserving Their Legacy Author

5 thoughts on “To Let the Sun Set – by Felicity Poole

  1. A wonderful story with tension and family drama from beginning to end. You’re descriptions of the climatic scene with the villains were incredible. I hung on every word of it and could visualize it easily. Nail-biting for sure. Thank you for sharing the story.

  2. Une bonne histoire ! Accrochée à ma lecture, tenue en haleine de bout en bout avec une superbe fin ! Les Cartwright, que du bonheur !!!

    Google Translate: A good story! Clinging to my reading, held in suspense from start to finish with a superb ending! The Cartwrights, only happiness!!!

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